May 24, 2010

The Red Ryder

I am getting a jump on Memorial Day by honoring this WW2 Bomber Crew today.

Standing (R-L): Pilot, 1st Lt. George N. Ryder, Jr, husband of Mary A. Ryder, Decatur, GA; Co-pilot, 2nd Lt. Wayne A. Kretschmar, son of Otto B. Kretschmar, Venturia, ND; Navigator, 2nd Lt. Billy K. Isbell, son of Ray E. Isbell, Charleston, IL; Bombadier, 2nd Lt. Easton W. Duval3, Jr., son of W. E. Duval, Sr., Austin, TX; Right Waist Gunner, T/Sgt Robert D. McIntire, son of Ella McIntire, St. Louis Park, MN

Kneeling (R-L): Ball Turret Gunner, S/Sgt Bud W. Armstrong, son of Mrs. Ima M. Armstrong, Shattuck, OK;
Top Turret Gunner, T/Sgt Charles E. Doane, son of Mrs. Katie Doane, San Diego, CA; Nose Turret Gunner, S/Sgt James H. Williams, son of Mrs. Loretta Williams4, Kingsland, AR; Tail Gunner, S/Sgt Julius J. Bryson, son of Mrs. Eva Marie Bryson, Greensboro, NC; Left Waist Gunner, S/Sgt Raymond H. Bourgeois, son of Mrs. Josephine Bourgeois, Gramercy, LA

This photo is of the crew of The Red Ryder, a WW2 B-24 Bomber on which my wife's youngest maternal uncle S/Sgt Raymond H. Bourgeois was a gunner.  He was a son of Henry Joseph and Josephine Corinne Caillouet Bourgeois of Gramercy, LA and he and his crew were lost on May 31, 1944 while returning to their base in Italy following a bombing run over the Polesti, Rumania oil fields.  He was six days shy of his 22 birthday.

The aircraft cleared the coast of Yugoslavia and was over the Adriatic sea, near the island of Vis when the pilot feathered the number 3 engine, but maintained air speed of about 150 knots. The crew was seen throwing guns, ammunition and equipment out of the aircraft in order to maintain altitude. Other planes attempted to contact the crew by radio, but were unsuccessful. At about 5000 to 6000 feet, the crew began to bail out, and 10 chutes were seen to open. All landed in the water, but none were recovered alive.

From all reports by others in formation with the Red Ryder, the bomber was not in severe distress, but no one will ever know for certain! It must have been however, since the crew did abandon it.

How we came to be in possession of the photo is forgotten.  We knew that one of the men was Raymond but unsure which.  There are no sisters or brothers remaining alive to identify him. 

It took some time for me to identify and eliminate all of the other crew members before determining that Raymond was the airman kneeling left.  Later I discovered that at the time, a protocol existed for such photos: From right to left standing, the pilot, co-pilot, navigator, bombardier and crew chief/right waist gunner.  Then kneeling right to left was the  ball turret gunner, top turret gunner, nose turret gunner, tail gunner and left waist gunner.  But, because I did not know which gun Raymond manned, I still would have been lost.  My wife and her oldest sister thought he might have been kneeling second from right.

After obtaining the official US Army Air Force accident report and learning the names and hometowns of the men, I began a letter writing campaign to newspapers, libraries, court houses, etc. in an effort to find anyone who could identify the men.  Somewhat to my surprise, many people contacted me, including a phone call from a surviving brother of one of the men.  All of the people who wrote expressed their gratitude for the photograph and information that I had gleaned from the accident report.  Reports they had received at the time from the military either contained scant information or, were long ago lost in the dusty attics of time.

Only one newspaper - a daily in St. Louis Park, MN - refused to run my letter to the editor saying instead that it was not "public interest" and, I would have to pay advertising rates for them to include it in their publication!

My wife told me that her grandfather Bourgeois never acknowledged his son's death.  He reasoned that because his body had not been recovered, his son was not dead.  I feel certain that belief comforted him until his own death in 1953.

Readers interested in viewing more information about this research effort, and letters from relatives should click on the blog title to reach my website that feebly attempts to honor these men.

The plane in the photo is not the Red Ryder.  This photo was taken in Fresno, CA c1944, before the crew went overseas.

No. 990

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